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Myanmar sentences 2 UN staff to jail for violence

A court in Myanmar has sentenced two United Nations staff members to prison terms for their alleged involvement in a spate of bloody communal violence in the west of the country in June, the world body said Monday.

The punishments were handed down Friday in the Rakhine state town of Maungdaw, said Aye Win, a U.N. spokesman based in Myanmar. One of those sentenced was an employee of the U.N. refugee agency and the other the U.N. World Food Program.

A spokesperson for the world body's refugee agency in Bangkok, Vivian Tan, called the verdicts "very disappointing."

Tan said a third aid worker employed by another unidentified humanitarian group partnered to the U.N. was also convicted.

U.N. officials said they had no details on the official charges.

The Myanmar independent Weekly Eleven newspaper reported that the staffers — all believed to be from the local Muslim community — were charged with various crimes, including promoting hatred between Buddhists and Muslims and participation in arson attacks. The paper cited anonymous court sources in its report, and said the sentences ranged from two to six years.

Violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims exploded in June, leaving more 80 people dead and thousands of homes burned to the ground. Human rights groups say around 100,000 people were displaced during the conflict. They have accused the government over cracking down too harshly on Muslims, allegations the government has denied.

Humanitarian groups say that in all, at least 12 local staff employed by international aid groups were detained by the government in June for suspected involvement in the unrest. Six have so far been released.

Last week, Doctors Without Borders said that two of its employees were still being held, while the U.N. refugee agency said two Myanmar nationals on its staff were in custody. The World Food Program is also believed to have staff who have been detained, but it has given no details about them.

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Associated Press writers John Heilprin in Geneva and Todd Pitman in Bangkok contributed to this report.